About the Practice
What is Zazen? What is Sesshin?
"Zazen is the recognition of universal life, as it is, just now. Everyone is seeking universal life and peace, but it is, miraculously, here as this Now. Deep peace does not always come from inspiration, special knowledge or practice; it is each exhalation, the deep silence of no-mind." - Hogen-san
A sesshin is a unique, profound and strangely cooperative experience in silence. We ask that you please pay attention to the spirit of the guidelines offered here and the instructions given at the start of the sesshin. It cannot be over-emphasised that the experience of our practice and daily activities on this retreat rest upon the stable foundation of simplicity, silence and respect for each other.
"First of all, it is necessary to be free of any preconceived ideas about meditation and also any kind of habitual thinking and to starve the mind of ideas and thoughts. Zazen is not a way of gaining great knowledge; it is a way of humility, there being nothing to acquire, nothing to keep; it is the transcendence of all that is habitual in us. It is this vast unknown original field of reality, which no one has ever explored. Each moment is new virgin soil." – Hogen san
The word sesshin means to touch/meet/receive/contact/encounter/experience the heart-mind. Retreat practice dates back to the time of the Buddha when monks and nuns would gather together and practice intensively during the rainy season. The Zen sesshin traditionally runs for 7 days and aims at offering the rare opportunity of combining an environment of deep silence and support, with the true heart of Zen practice and insight, guided by the teacher. We will be continuing the tradition of looking into the "heart of understanding" the "Open Way".
Conduct During Sesshin
The guidelines concerning conduct during sesshin can be summed up as the practice of "noble silence". This is the deep silence of body, speech and mind that is practised throughout all hours of the retreat, during all activities. Be aware that this "noble silence" extends to refraining from whispering, making eye contact and touching others. Try to do your best, with gentleness and simplicity, while bearing in mind the efforts and increased sensitivities of those around you.
If a practice-related problem arises and it is necessary to discuss it, find a chance to speak quietly and privately to the Head Monk about it, or mention it to the teacher in dokusan. If you have an urgent work-related or food-related problem, mention it to the Retreat Manager. Other problems such as illness, an emergency or a personal problem should be raised either with the Head Monk or the Retreat Manager. Unless there is an urgent emergency, wait until a break period before approaching the leader.
Please don’t speak or write notes to the Tenzo (cook) or anyone else. Please don’t seek counsel from or offer counsel to your fellow students.
Live minimally: Zazen is “doing nothing, expecting nothing, getting nothing.” On sesshin, travel light. Try not to bring anything that is not of direct importance to your immediate needs. No intoxicants (alcohol/drugs/cigarettes) are permitted. Reading books, writing letters or passing notes should be avoided. Please avoid activities, such as the playing of music, singing, whistling, humming, wearing inappropriate clothing etc., that may encroach on the peace of others. Be truly mindful of others’ attempts to encounter a vividly fresh and empty state of being.
Smiling is encouraged.
Watches and phones: Unless you have a job that requires the wearing of a watch, please don’t wear one. Sesshin gives you a rare chance to forget time. Don’t use phones or arrange for calls to be made to you, either on a mobile phone or on the Retreat Centre’s phone. If there is some urgent need to use a phone, please contact the Retreat Manager first.
Health: It is important to prevent colds and other illnesses going around the group. Please wash your hands carefully before handling food and after work periods and using the toilet.
Dokusan periods (voluntary private interviews with the Zen teacher) are available each day to allow you to clarify specific questions about your practice or any other related matters you may wish to discuss. This, face-to-face, "heart to heart", mutually reflecting encounter is important to the deepening of your and the teacher's understanding of genuine Zen practice.